Tiny Circus Returns from the Super Fantastic RAGBRAI Tour

After an exciting eight day long tour with the Registers Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), the Tiny Circus has returned to Grinnell. Each day involved setting up our animation tent in overnight towns along the route to allow the riders and locals to participate in our animation, as well as participate in interviews about their RAGBRAI experience and the community it has to offer. 

Animating tent getting prepared for the day.

Day three of RAGBRAI was our big animating day in Des Moines. Instead of our usual animating station we set up a sky jack in front of the capitol building to animate people! The sky jack allowed us to shoot photos of everyone from above.

Two Circus-ers shooting and directing on the sky jack. 

Participants on the ground and in position for animating.
 In each town people of all ages and backgrounds showed up to our tent to help make paper characters for the animation project. Once they were done making their character, they had the opportunity to take it to the animating table and learn how to do stop-motion animations.

Participants at the making table.

Jenny and Katie demonstrating how our process works at the animating table. 

We received a lot of super fantastic help from participants in each town and we thank everyone who came by.  Now that we're home we'll be going through all of the animations and interviews we collected along the way to begin the editing process.  Please check back soon to see the finished Super Fantastic RAGBRAI animation! 


When I don't make it to kaddish, I feel bad. I don't feel bad because I forget that he was alive. I forget that he is dead.

Why should this make me feel guilty? But it does.

Everyone tells me that saying kaddish (or trying to) is not the same as mourning. Don't get confused, they say. Going to prayer services three times a day (or as many as one does) is not the same as grief.

But there were days I couldn't go last week* because The Bearded Economist was on a business trip. And it turned out that I can sometimes forget that I am a mourner. Or, more explicitly, an orphan, or at least half of one. And then when I am reminded, it feels suddent, and it twists.

Better to do it every day. Maybe I'll learn.

I don't get to three services a day. I did for a while, and I planned to do so for the first month after his death, because that's a particularly important period in the Jewish mourning ritual. I was foiled by some unwelcoming experiences, but I also think that maybe it had to stop? Because it was leaving The Bearded Economist to get the children ready in the morning as well as to bed at night.

It's like the prayer services were engineered to give men an out on the hardest parenting times of day. But also, I missed my kids.

Anyway, now I try to go once a day, three times a day on the weekend, when I can pray with my chosen community. I think that's what I'll probably do for this time, this eleven months of kaddish.

When I was going to morning services, I was tired, so tired. Waking up to get to 6:20 am services left me very, very low on sleep. I probably would have stopped going in the morning, anyway. This way, I can blame the difficulties on the community that I tried, however briefly and superficially, to join. Maybe they did me a favor, is what I'm trying to say. Thanks for the deep and painful rejection.

Ah, it is too hard. I miss my father very much. You know, we disagreed a lot, politically and religiously and everythingly. And in the later years, he could be very difficult, precisely because he was sick, although still going to work and still enjoying life and still travelling. But he was not very good at being sick. And I think he was angrier than he liked to admit, and more withdrawn.

And he made me crazy. Frustrated, crazy. We couldn't talk much.

But then he got sicker, and that crystallized things. I love him a lot, it turns out. I told him that a lot; and I hope he really heard it. I think I maybe joked around too much when I said it, because that's what we do. I think he understood. I think so.

You know, if you had asked me what my father thought of me lately, I would have said that he loved me, but that  it was mutual - that I kind of made him crazy. I was a  pain in his tuches*, you know? We had a hard time talking on the phone, or in person, about anything much besides his grandchildren. Even then, I think, the conversations would degenerate. Usually I would lash out.

My mom was looking, with my brother, for her marriage license. It's the first toehold in the paperwork mountain that his death has left, that she has to climb to get to her new life, whatever that may look like, and she was having trouble finding it. So my mother and my brother emptied out the ancient creaking filing cabinet in the corner of my parents' bedroom. And they found the marriage license, but they also found letters that my father had written to each of us. He underwent a triple cardiac bypass surgery 14 years ago, and what I didn't realize is how much he thought he was going to die. So he wrote us all letters, letters to tell us how much he loved us and why.

Mine is a beautiful letter, although I'm not sure he finished it. He tells me how much he loves me, and it's left without coda or signature. But then we got the following 14 years, so maybe that was his coda and his signature. I'm lucky to have those, I tell myself, but I don't feel lucky. I just feel sad.

It's a letter where he specifically tells me how much he loves me - me qua me - not just because I'm his oldest daughter and I made him a parent, or because I was a good student, or because of...well, anything. Just love because I'm me.

I read the letter and I can't stop crying. I can't read it again, and it's too precious to put anywhere. What do you do with things like this? I want to frame it and look at it every day; I want to put it in a steel safe and bury it. I want to burn it and send it to heaven, all at the same time.

What it turns out I've been doing is that I've been getting through by pretending he didn't love me much, at the end anyway, and that he didn't die. But neither of those things are true. He loved me - he loved us - so very much. He didn't want to go, and he tried so very hard to stay. But he is gone.

So I have the letter. I have the kaddish. I suppose I'll learn.

But right now it's just too hard.

*My brothers and sisters had it covered. We have a google calendar, of course. 
**Also tush, or tushie, or butt. 

The party of the Year!

In case you all haven't heard yet, Tracy and I were asked to be the guest speakers at the Petaluma, CA. retreat called Art Is You.  We have heard good things about this event from teachers who have taught at  our events (Artfest, Journalfest) so we were thrilled to find out we get to hang out with all our friends again.  We are throwing in a fun workshop that is free to all attendees during the opening night party.  There will even be cake!  Friends, fun, art and cake...what more could anyone want?!  We will also have some fun stuff for sale during the vendor night as well.  Hope to see you all there!

The circus is coming! The circus is coming!

The first time the Mermaid Circus came to town, it was incredible.  The art that was produced was crazy good.  Not only were our students inspired by our videos but everyone was inspired by each other as well.  It was amazing as you can see from these photos below (all were created by students).

 These photos from students are just a tiny little sampling from the facebook group postings thatwas a part of the workshop.

The Circus is COMING BACK TO TOWN!!!  
If you missed it before, you won't want to miss it this time around.  It starts on Sept. 2nd.  For those who were in the workshop before, there will a couple new videos from me as well as a $50 discount to re-enroll.  click on the link below to learn more.

july journal pages

Been really trying to journal every single day as my form of meditation.  It's not that it is work or I have to force myself to do it...I have so much fun at it, that I almost feel guilty when I devote a large chunk of time to it....Like I should be doing something better with my time.  So when I look at it as my form of meditation (which it totally is) , I give myself permission to take the time to do it.  And it's been feeling so great.  I'm still amazed after 1000's of journal pages over the past 25 years, that the act of making art is still something that nourishes the depths of my being.  It just feels like something my body needs like sleeping and eating.

Summer 2013 Residents' Animations

Tiny Circus artists recently completed the animations Age and Before Sleep. Like previous documentary animations, these videos use audio recordings of interviews.

The Circus Prepares to Tour Iowa

#packing the air stream and setting out#
We continue to make progress in preparation for the giant workshop we have designed for the upcoming Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, RAGBRAI. Animation sessions are planned for stations in each overnight location along the RAGBRAI route. Riders will be recruited to create animations and record audio for a documentary video about community. We need your help! Tiny Circus relies on group (community) participation in our creative process. Look for the big red tent, red signs, and carnies dressed in red Tiny Circus t-shirts, which we coincidentally will be selling, in the following RAGBRAI overnight locations: Council Bluffs, Harlan, Perry, Des Moines, Knoxville, Oskaloosa, Fairfield, & Fort Madison. The finished product will be featured at the "Riding Through History" exhibition hosted by the State Historical Museum of Iowa in conjunction with the Iowa Arts Council.
During this morning's group meeting we learned about Monday's front page of the "OFFICIAL NEWSPAPER OF GRINNELL AND POWESHIEK COUNTY, IOWA".
Much has been accomplished in preparation for RAGBRAI so far this week. We have collectively settled on and tested out a storyboard that anticipates community assistance. We have exhausted every song ever written about bicycles, but we're open to suggestions. We have an especially spectacular scene planned for Des Moines! Come join The Circus!!
Have you watched this one yet?

Tuesday at Tiny Circus

After another intense lead-up to our second film screening, our weekend concluded with a welcome relaxed pace, but was accompanied by the departure of several Circus clowns. The rest of us spent Monday organizing ourselves to tackle the upcoming RABRAI tour project—which our new video promo (below) might best explain!

As a few of us aren't joining the main crew next week, we split the seemingly-infinite remaining logistics, responsibilities, and plans. Animation tests and phone calls to newspapers alike were made, and our Google "Ducks" online turned grey with every completed task. We rounded out the day with a picnic dinner at Rock Creek, where one particularly spry clown proved that swimming across the lake right after eating is safe (so long as you ignore the haunted depths and their aquatic moaning). A recently-returned harp made the evening especially peaceful.

Tuesday began anew with excellent DJing by none other than your most humble blogpost author for today, and the morning was spent discussing the test animations and tackling a storyboard for each day of the trip. We're talking tubes, hoppers, and gears galore—so get excited!

The afternoon switched from all that couch time and got us moving in the sluggish humidity: some of us completed a series of new test animations, others made to-do lists for making more to-do lists, and everyone suffered from the heat. Overall, it was as productive a few hours as it was icky working conditions, but the Circus never lets the weather get to us! Dinner was served in town at Community Meal (which you should attend every Tuesday at 5:30pm if you live in Grinnell) and the evening spreads out in front of us. More to come!

End of Week 2: Afternoon Ducks & Late-Night Donuts

It’s already been another week here at Tiny Circus! We started week two with three new members in the community, but in the past two days we’ve welcomed another four--- three ducks, one person. Yesterday afternoon, in the midst of our exceptionally focused animating and sound-editing, we watched as Turtle, Enya, and No. 3 crawled their way from their dark shells into the light and love of Circus.

Their arrival could not have been more timely. This week’s animation explores some of the complications of age and aging. We do this through collected interviews from the Grinnell community, and short animations of animal kingdom milestones. Watching the ducks hatch added both a more tangible and more magical element to our project.

Because of the ever-changing roster of this year’s summer session, we have been spending only one week on each animation. The compressed timeline is exhilarating. Some of our members have observed that this lifestyle is something lik
e a cross between a music festival and finals week. 

Last night (or this morning?) we all worked hard until midnight. After checking in on audio and visual progress, we decided that a) some people needed to sleep b) some people needed to animate, and c) some people needed to go get donuts for the animators (there is a Grinnell tradition of 2 am “bakery runs” to the local bakery in town). The donuts (and espresso) did their job, and the animators finished another scene at 3:30 am this morning. 

Tonight will be our second potluck-screening-dance party of the summer session. Tomorrow, a few more members will leave town, and those staying at Circus will spend the next week planning the Tiny Circus event for the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI).


We lost my father about three weeks ago.

I have some thoughts about grief that I'll probably share in a while. For right now, being sad and saying Kaddish* are taking any of the energy  I have, and more. Mostly being sad. Being sad is really exhausting.

I'll be back when I can.

*The Jewish prayer for the dead, recited by the mourning.

End of Week 1: Before Sleep

Tiny Circus has been hard at work creating our first animation of the summer session. We set a goal for ourselves to make a visually and aurally compelling documentary animation, all in only four days!

The premise of the animation is to explore the peoples’ thoughts in the moments before they fall asleep. We’ve had a lot of fun interviewing people of all ages in town on this subject and experimenting with animation on a multi-plane table that some of our members constructed. We’re excited about how everything is coming together, both in the diversity of people’s responses and the images we are now able to create with the new equipment. 

We’re in crunch time now and are in the process of editing the audio and shooting final scenes. Then we’ll turn to final editing and create a whole out of the audio and visual parts. We’ve invited friends and community members for an evening showing of the completed piece and can’t wait to pose our question to more viewers!  

We’re sad to see some of our Circus members leave but we look forward to new arrivals this weekend for Week 2!

Hocus Focus

Today the Tiny Circus crew took focus to a new level with the construction of a brand new contraption for our latest animation.  We built a focal plane structure for the animating table that has already resulted in some truly stunning visuals!  For this project we are playing with depth of field as a way to communicate different perspectives we are exploring concerning the time before sleep.  Circus folks also spent the morning hyper-focused on collecting a myriad of imagery and editing together the community interviews we conducted yesterday.  In the afternoon we listened to the compiled interviews as a group as well as viewed multiple test animations.  Afterwards we continued to collaboratively develop ideas surrounding these audio and visual materials.  The nifty "exploration map" created as a group the day before helps guide our discussions and ideas as we continue to move towards to the finish line.

Its been a highly productive day, which means its time to shift our focus to... DANCE PARTY!

Tiny Circus is back.

Tinny Circus Summer session is back! This is the 6thedition, and we are excited to be back in Grinnell. Participants come from all over the country and we even have an international visitor this year.

Our day starts with a nice breakfast and some group cleaning. We are then energetic and ready to start working.

This year project, based in thoughts before sleep, it’s starting to shape. So far, we have been recording interviews with some local folks and we are now in the audio editing process.

This year, the rooms have been named so everyone knows where they belong. Check out those names:  Peatang, Zebaby, Dungaroo, Whonky, Snooster, Porncupine. Yes, we know, those are impossible combinations in wild, lucky us, this is Tinny Circus.